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Toronto Croatia: Great Croatian Story... (movie review)

Rocket Robin

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Review of the film "Toronto Croatia: Great Croatian Story..." which was shown

at the Meadowvale Theatre in Mississauga on Friday January 17th, 2014.

I have now seen the movie twice as I bought the video of the film they sold

in the lobby thinking I'd missed up to 30 minutes because I couldn't find

the theatre (it was attached to a high school--not a cinema/multiplex at

the Meadowvale Town Centre).

Reasons given for insisting on the name Croatia all over the world were:

to foster ties to the homeland from the diaspora (people who left Croatia).

to develop a sense of national belonging. The sports teams acted as ambassadors

of Croatia and spreading the Croatian name through soccer.

When Croatia (independent country since 1990) qualified for their first World Cup,

they used emigrant players at some key positions.

The team in Toronto was mentioned for the first time at the 13 minute mark. They won

their first game played against Toronto Ulster.

Melbourne Knights of Australia may not have the name Croatia anymore but I could see

the team emblem of the club president's shirt had a helmeted knight holding a sword and

a shield with the red and white checkerboard pattern of the Croatian coat of arms.

They touched on the rivalry between Croats and Serbs in soccer games around the world.

A game in 1970 when Dynamo Zagreb from the homeland visited Toronto and drew 10000-20000

(dependng on which ex-player they interviewed) and the people waited even through the

team was two hours late.

That started a series of Croatian players coming to play for Toronto n the early 1970s. Some

of them got in trouble when they went back home because dictator Tito was upset by

the open nationalism that he accused the Toronto Croatia team of having.

First word of English was not until 32 minutes when Bruce Thomas talked about merging

his NASL Toronto Metros team with Toronto Croatia in 1975. A midseason coaching shakeup

and new players including Eusebio started them an unbeaten run right through the playoffs.

Eusebio renounced his bonuses and sometimes even paid bonuses from his own pocket to

teammates. (Eusebio passed away just two weeks ago).

The merged team split (in 1979) and Toronto Croatia returned to the NSL.

Every four years diaspora Croatian teams play in a tournament. Toronto Croatia has won many times.

The last ten minutes of the movie contained many quotes from last year's roster.

Achievements were further recognized when the 1976 edition of the team was elected to the Canadian

Soccer Hall of Fame in 2010. That made few headlines in the Croatia (the country) press only mentioning

a few players like Ivica Grnja and Eusebio rather than the team. That appears one of the reasons

why this documentary was made.

The running time is 1 hour and 7 minutes (not 107 minutes).

There are few typos in the English translation...such as the

Metros-Croatia beat the Minnesota Nicks (s/b Kicks) to win

the Soccer Bowl. I had more trouble with hearing some of the English

talkers like the great Eusebio and the heavy accent of the player from Croatia Geelong

with his Crocodile Dundee Australian drawl. The subtitles for these interviews immediately

switched to Croatian.

This is more a documentary than a sports movie. There's not a lot of game footage from the early

and glory days because I expect there just wasn't much filmed but there's newspaper headlines

and pans of still photos to cover the narration and talking heads.


There is a trailer for this film on YouTube address:


The film was made within the last few months because one of the interviewees is sitting

in front of a poster of the Croatian national team with '2014 World Cup qualifiers'

which only happened in November 2013.

The trailer shows a run by Eusebio comparable to Diego Maradona running through the English

defence except that the last defender blatantly tripped him in the box.


The theatre was sold out. I'd estimate there were 400 people there. It was

an older audience proven when it was asked on the panel later "How many people were

at Varsity the time Eusebio...." and about 1/3 of the hands went up.

After the film their were some speeches onstage and a panel discussion.

First the director of the film Jakov Sedlar spoke but only in Croatian. Eveyone else spoke

in English.

The Croatian Ambassador to Canada praised the film and the team and said he met a Canadian

First Nation chief who only knew of Croatia because of the Toronto Croatia soccer team.

A big surprise to me was the Mayor of Mississauga, Hazel McCallion being there.

She had just chaired a conference of the mayors of cities in the Greater Toronto Area

gathering together to urge funding from the provincial and federal governments to help pay

for damages from the ice storms just before Christmas. She's 92 years old and in her

last term of office. She's well known as more of a hockey fan but she did say it was important

to record this soccer story for history. She praised the contribution of Croatian immigrants

for not just soccer but for their contributions to Canada. She praised the players work to integrate

Eusebio onto the team. She remembers the crowds in Streetsville (part of Mississauga) partying when

Croatia won a game at the World Cup.

She dropped in a joke about wishing the team would change its name....(gasp:...after the film included

battling through all the officials who tried to get them to drop the name Croatia).....punch line...to

Mississauga Croatia!

She asked the community to get behind Canada's efforts to get into the World Cup. Then she made sure to

add the Women's team to that as well (which shows she's more of a hockey fan because Canada is hosting

the Women's World Cup).

A table was brought to the middle of the stage so a discussion could be held with panelists which

included Dick Howard, CSL league admin Stan Adamson, former Toronto Metros-Croatia player Robert

Iarusci, Bruce Thomas (past president of Toronto Metros-Croatia) and John Domagoj Sola (another former

Toronto Croatia president)

Sola and Thomas were the first to speak.

Toronto Croatia has always been a community team with no direct ownership. It was unusual to see the

pass-the-hat operations compete at times with the silver-market-cornering-billionaire Hunt Brothers

of the NASL. There were times in the pre-NASL days when their players earned $10 for a win, $5 for a tie,

and $0 for a loss. There was a joke that Bob Iarusci was sold to the New York Cosmos to finance for the

payroll for rest of the team. When the Croatia part of the team merged with the Metros, only three of the

Metros made the team. Their roster over the years were complemented by players from Croatia (Yugoslavia)

who were 'loaned' to the team in their off season because Yugoslavia wouldn't let soccer players emigrate

until they were age 28.

Stan Adamson reviewed Toronto Croatia's history from their formation in 1956 who entered a very strong

league and it took them until 1970 to win the championship and then they won four years in a row. They merged

with Toronto Metros in 1975 as part of the NASL. He said in later years when talk of the CSL possibly expanding

to British Columbia the officials in BC wanted an exhibition game and insisted that it was Toronto Croatia they

wanted to see.

Dick Howard reminded people how since the 1990s he'd called Croatia 'the Brazilians of Europe' because of their

pride and passion. He noted in the world cup draw of this year the first game is Brazil vs Croatia and he advised

there could be an upset. His own career with the NASL is that he didn't play for Metros-Croatia because of a knee

injury but was soon traded to Boston Minutemen who ironically traded Eusebio (not the same deal).

Bob Iarusci told a few stories including a pre season trip of Metros-Croatia to Australia where the team was

treated like royalty by diaspora Croatians who'd settled there. His angle on his trade to the Cosmos that he was

enraged because it was Cosmos officials who informed him of the trade and the Metros-Croatia owner at the time said

he was going to tell him eventually. After being picked up in a limousine and taken to a luxury hotel where he'd

stay in New York while with the team and found out he'd be making ten times his old salary he said he phoned

the M-C owner and thanked him. As a Canadian he was grateful for the experienced Croatian players for helping

him develop.

Executive producer Joe Pavicic who's the current chairman of Toronto Croatia finished the evening by saying it's

important to keep the current team going. A handout in the lobby listing previous year winners since 1926 had

Toronto Croatia winning the NSL in 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1992, the CPSL in 2004, and the CSL in 2007,

2011, and 2012.


I was not a dedicated follower of soccer until 1986 when I attended the Canada-Wales friendly at Varsity

Stadium but do remember reading about the team. I remember a headline in some American publication (probably

my father's TIME magazine) after they won the championship ...something like..'Toronto makes Minnesota eat

Croat-meal' and how upset league officials were that an ethnic named team had won the league. I remember that's

about all I knew about Croatia so as the film carried on I could see why the team insisted on using the name

Croatia throughout the something like 130 diaspora teams around the world. Hundreds of years without a country

trying to keep from being completely assimilated.


The DVD was priced at $20. There's no website or e-mail address listed but I have the e-mail address of Joe Pavicic

as josip@likro.com

This film could easily play on CFMT or on the Documentary Channel. I noticed yesterday that station had

scheduled for the third time in the same day a showing of 'Dirt' a film about cleanliness. Certainly there

should be room to air this show just for the CanCon alone.


After the panel discussion ended I was expecting a reception in a room rather then in the noisy theatre lobby and

I did ask some questions about the CSL continuation in 2014 but I'm going to write that up after attending the

Canadian Soccer Association newsconference on Thursday 'Canada Soccer to present strategic vision for 2014-2018'

where I hope to corner some Ontario officials to update me on the progress of Ontario League 1.

Rocket Robin


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